Southern art for a southern soul

This is a post about being southern, appreciating clever design, and the Old Try. Enjoy.


For many years I had personal concerns about having been born and raised in the south, and more specifically Tennessee.

Considering the following:

  • Race relations: this obviously includes slavery, native American injustices (not limited to the Trail of Tears), the Civil War, MLK’s assassination, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, Dred Scott v. Sanford, that we even needed the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, and many more…
  • Dixie: Confederate flags, the KKK, “The South will rise again”, etc.
  • Rednecks: both the stereotype and reality of a “backwoods” southern people
  • Slang and slow talk: possessing an accent that absolutely identifies me as southern
  • Other southern things: a love for old country and bluegrass, mom’s biscuits and fried chicken, honeysuckle, seersucker, linen, etc.

Due to most of the above, I actively worked to avoid mentioning my southern roots.

It wasn’t until I went away to college that I realized I was mistaken. I wasn’t ashamed to be from the American South. I hadn’t really understood what it meant to be southern. Of course there are pieces of our history that I am not proud to be associated with as an American, a man, or a human. That doesn’t mean I can’t embrace the things that makes our culture unique.

About eighteen months ago my mother emailed me a link to some art from a husband-wife duo living in Boston called The Old Try. Southern by birth, this couple hails from Alabama and North Carolina, with alma maters of Ole Miss and UNC (Go Duke). As the story goes,  Tornadoes struck Alabama in the spring of 2011. But Micah and Marianna were in Boston, MA. So instead of rushing down south to clean up, they started a company that would help them reconnect with their southern roots, and give others a chance to display their own connections to the South in the process.

I’ve been buying these prints a few at a time for the better part of a year. They make me proud to be a southerner. Now, it’s time to get them up on the walls of my home and others. Here are a few of the ones I have, now living in barnwood frames courtesy of a farm south of Nashville and some handywork by friend, teacher, and artist Ben Wood.

Ben does some pretty incredible stuff with tools. He drives people like me crazy with his ability to see a problem and work it out in his head without writing things down. He’s built tables, canvases, furniture, kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities, and much more. He does custom art too, as if he weren’t talented enough. Here are some images of the work he did, and some of his custom artwork created for friends.

These simple works really are no exception. Take boards cut decades ago, warped by the insanity of the four-season, humid weather we enjoy here in Middle Tennessee. Now take those boards and try to mold with them in such a way that you preserve the uniqueness of that life-span. It was a challenge, and although we have about 20+ more to go, these first five were a labor of love (though way more labor for Ben).


Ben Wood working on the first of the barnwood frames for The Old Try prints


The first finished frame


A pocket screw for stability on the frame edges and easy access to change the print if needed


The groove included to hold the print, 1/4″ plywood for stability, and wooden “keys” to keep everything tight inside the frame

TOT & G&G Dixie

The Old Try’s “Dixie” print, a collaboration with Garden & Gun from 2012


The Old Try’s “The Line” print in a new frame by Ben Wood


The Old Try’s “New South” in new frame


The Old Try’s “Rocky Top” tri-star print in new frame


The Old Try’s “Grand Old Party” in a new frame, for those of us who tend to the right of the political spectrum (Please note the bark from the tree on this frame – The board was cut this way years ago, and we did what we could to not get rid of the original tree bark)


“Untitled 1” – An original work by Ben Wood (hanging in the living room of my old home) made up of three individual panels


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3 responses to “Southern art for a southern soul”

  1. Susan W. says :

    Love this post. From a 4th generation Native Atlanta Girl.

    • Wes Hartline says :

      Thanks Susan. I appreciate it. I’m originally a product of Fulton County General Hospital and a family that’s been in GA for a long, long time.

  2. Ben Carpenter says :

    As a Northerner/Midwesterner + someone who usually leans left, I enjoyed reading this. It’s easy to rail against everything we hate about our environment (and maybe ourselves?) but that in itself doesn’t help us grow. Using creative means to hold up a community is one of the more beautiful things a human can do, and I was encouraged by this!
    good work my friend.

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